The National Mediation Programme: A force for women’s rights in Sri Lanka

Jan 16 2023. views 21


Currently, violence against women has become a social issue, as well as a basic human rights issue in various South Asian countries such as Sri Lanka. One of the basic issues related to this problem is the lack of awareness among women about topics such as, what is violence against women? How does it work? What are the consequences? What are ways to prevent it? What are the legal procedures? What is the correct place to direct this question? Another issue related to this topic is Every woman has the right to her own life, and the right to equality and freedom same as men. Everyone should be under full protection under the law of the country, without any discrimination. It is imperative that all forms of prejudice and discrimination, as well as any inhumane treatment or punishment, should be prohibited.

When it comes to women-related disputes, the proceedings and operations of Mediation Boards should be well-known, as it could be beneficial for women who have found it difficult to access the formal justice system.

The first Community Mediation Boards (CMBs) were established in Sri Lanka in 1990, as per the Mediation Boards Act (No. 72/1988). This was approved with the intention of having key members of society play a role in settling disputes between individuals (which include minor criminal offences, civil, land, and debt issues) in an equal, just, and unbiased manner.  With policy oversight and administrative support from the Ministry of Justice, the National Mediation Programme of Sri Lanka is currently led by the Mediation Boards Commission (MBC) and supported by well-trained volunteer mediators across the island.

The Mediation Board Act No.72 of 1988 defines ‘Mediation’ as follows:
“Mediation, as a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), is a course of actions taken to bring about an amicable settlement between the disputants by regular means, with their consent, and whenever practicable, removing the real cause of the grievance to prevent recurrence of the dispute of concern.” 
The main objective of setting up Community Mediation Boards (CMBs) across Sri Lanka is to reduce the escalation of local conflicts. This is done by providing the necessary facilities and attaining volunteer-based efforts to focus on resolving disputes from a grassroots level – ensuring that peace and harmony among communities are maintained. 

Community Mediation Boards (CMBs) are based around Divisional Secretariat offices located all over the island. The services provided by CMBs are very important, especially for women and marginalised communities. 

Under the National Mediation Programme, various disputes and minor offences are often referred to as the closest CMB. The chairperson will appoint a Mediation Board with the consent of both parties consisting of three mediators to discuss the relevant issue or dispute. The disputant initiating the dispute is considered the first party, and the other is considered the second party. Through this mediation process, the relevant dispute is discussed between these two parties, while the three mediators facilitate – making them the third party.

During the process, if one party is a woman and has difficulty in presenting her problem, she is allowed to ask for at least one woman mediator to be present. Additionally, if the problem cannot be stated directly in one session, it can always be presented later. Using Mediation Boards to solve disputes is an inexpensive option. If a complaint is made through the police or the court and referred for mediation, then the service will be completely free of charge. In any other case, it would cost Rs 5/-. A unique feature of the mediation process is the ability for parties to present their disputes by themselves, unlike in a public court of law, where cases are presented by representatives. This allows people to give life to their grievances and express their feelings in front of the Mediation Board.

In terms of privacy at the Mediation Boards, anyone can submit their issues to the Mediation Board in confidence without worrying about privacy. Mediation of disputes will then be carried out with confidentiality. The level of confidentiality is high as the Mediation Board is legally barred from presenting personal statements to a court of law as evidence. 

Mediators are typically nominated by the Divisional Secretary or Chairperson of the specific Mediation Board, or nominated by non-government or political organisations, religious leaders, school principals or government officials. They are selected through an interview process and undergo 40 hours of training in mediation techniques and skills. 

Mediators seek to understand power imbalances between disputing parties and focus on creating equal power between disputants, as a basis for an effective settlement of a dispute. 

Unlike in the adversarial formal court system, the role of the mediator is not to solve the dispute, but rather to help disputants find a win-win solution acceptable to both parties, without deciding who is right or wrong. For more information about the Community Mediation Board in your area, reach out to your nearest Divisional Secretariat, Gramaseva Niladhari Office or even through the Mediation Boards Commission. Refer your disputes to a Mediation Board. 

 



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